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Generation 21

Adaptive Path, the new design thinking for the Web

Janice Fraser, the Queen of Web 2.0

Surfing the New Wave in Silicon Valley

«While most folks were feeling glum, other folks were inventing new things (and at much lower cost). Eventually, those little start-ups - blogger, delicious, upcoming, flickr - began to catch the attention of the Silicon Valley, and the money began to flow. An upturn was inevitable»

Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues, editor of Gurusonline.tv, March 2006

INTERVIEW | JANICE PROFILE BY HERSELF
POST-INTERVIEW: THE CONTEXT BEHIND
A BIT OF ECONOMICS | TIME LINE

We live in a time where everybody get crazy about the blogg mania or the new services that Google launch every month. We can't live without Wikipedia as the new encyclopaedia or Flickr for online photo sharing, for example. This new chaotic world has a name: Web 2.0. A growing number of companies are thriving on this chaos. And, imagine, they were profitable from inception, what is devilling venture capitalists. In the heart of the "buzz" is Adaptive Path, a five-year old start-up from San Francisco, the "Queen" of the new design thinking for the Web.

The company define itself as a kind of newest web consulting company, specialized in user experience consultancy. The bold words in this motto are "user experience", because the online world changed a lot in the last five years: users are nowadays more interested in DOING things on the Web than in VISITING places online. The user shifted from a visitor to a full actor. The overall situation changes from a navigational environment to an experience stage. The name of the game is now "architecture of participation", science and art of user engagement, of involving users both implicitly and explicitly in adding value. The current most popular signal of this big change is the bloggosphere.

The company is a child of a clear turning point in the landscape of the Web after the crash of the Nasdaq (April 2000) and the bursting of the dot.com bubble. "Inventive people are making cool stuff again", says Janice Fraser, 40, the founding partner and CEO of this very special consulting firm based at South Park, in "Frisco". The "cool stuff" is the diversified world of applications classified under the moniker "Web 2.0". The bubble crashed and the dot-com euphoria collapsed, but not the Web, the innovators and entrepreneurs - that's the message that come from the Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.

The Year 2006 begins with good news for Adaptive Path. The company just sold Measure Map (www.measuremap.com), the unique analytics service about blogg audiences designed for bloggers, to Google. The product director along with several other members of the development team were "sold" in the package. Measure Map helps bloggers understand what people do at his/her blog and what influence the blogger is having on the world.


JANICE CROTTY FRASER PROFILE

Founder partner of Adaptive Path LLC in 2001. She is on the Faculty of San Francisco State University's Multimedia Studies Program, teaching interaction design.
She started as an interaction designer for Netscape ten years ago, with big hair and married to a different husband. Since then, she got a serial-entrepreneur addiction, creating four start-ups.


INTERVIEW with Janice Fraser

The Concept of the Extended Company

"We engage with a broad community of peers and have an even broader ecosystem of related businesses. Our people maintain their own, uncensored weblogs, and we believe that our openness enriches our business. We collaborate with our clients, with other practitioners, with the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley as if they were part of our extended team. Openly engaging with the other people in the market helps us to be relevant and remain at the front of our field."

Why your company choose the Web 2.0 movement as the leverage for your business?

It's not so much that we chose it as a marketing platform, but rather that we recognize the importance and value of the "Web 2.0" developments. Many of us think the term Web 2.0 will quickly become obsolete, but for now it's a handy way to talk about the emergent characteristics of contemporary Web sites. The Web is still a nascent medium, and we expect that there will be periodic milestones as it develops. Web 2.0 is one of those milestones.

What is the competitive advantage differentiation of your company?

Our dual focus on user-centred design methods and business value give us the insight to innovate. Measure Map [just sold], for instance, shows how a user-centred approach to product design can lead to innovations that redefine an entire category of products (in this case analytics software). Adaptive Path attracts some of the best minds in the business. We are a community of peers who have the room to develop new ideas and the resources to take them to market as products and services. Inside the company, our mantra is "think, make, collaborate, and grow."

What is Web 2.0 in your vision?

There are others far more qualified to answer that question. To me, the Web 2.0 moniker is merely a convenient way to mark a point in time and package up a set of trends for evaluation and discussion.

Can we consider Google IPO the turning point for the new post-crash Digital Era?

The Google IPO certainly gave investors a reason to feel optimistic. These things go in cycles -- while most folks were feeling glum, other folks were inventing new things (and at much lower cost). Eventually, those little start-ups -- blogger, delicious, upcoming, flickr -- began to catch the attention of the Silicon Valley, and the money began to flow. The internet (and the larger space of networked devices) is an incredibly lucrative and wide-open market. It will provide ample opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs for decades to come. An upturn was inevitable, in my view.

Can you refer the best examples of the new landscape of "market as a conversation"?

That's a tough question. The good examples, like Flickr, have been written about extensively; the upstarts are unproven. At the risk of looking self-serving, I'd actually present Adaptive Path as an example of a "conversation"-based business. We engage with a broad community of peers and have an even broader ecosystem of related businesses. Our people maintain their own, uncensored weblogs, and we believe that our openness enriches our business. We collaborate with our clients, with other practitioners, with the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley as if they were part of our extended team. Openly engaging with the other people in the market helps us to be relevant and remain at the front of our field.

«I see a long-term hybrid future, where page less applications and page-based sites are used to accomplish different functions.»

Browsers and WebPages are turning obsolete tools?

I can see how developments like Ajax [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] and wireless create the potential for browsers and web pages to become less relevant, but the browser still provides essential utility, and the web page is still the basic vernacular for creating and using web sites. It will require a tremendous evolution to make them obsolete. Rather, I see a long-term hybrid future, where page less applications and page-based sites are used to accomplish different functions.

Aesthetics is important for Web presence?

Aesthetics are always important. People respond to aesthetic cues subconsciously and emotionally. Web sites and applications are subject to the same principles of brand that all products and companies are, for better or worse. In the new, web 2.0/"Markets as conversations" world, the concept of "brand" is changing. I see brands becoming less managed and more emergent. Like the voice of your written communications, the aesthetics of your visual communications can feel either human or forced, authentic or artificial.

Can you give an example?

Mappr is a great example of this: It's minimally designed, but the design decisions are subtle, deliberate, and important to the perceptions of the application. Mappr is an application that places images from Flickr over a map of the United States. The makers of Mappr used Helvetica for the typography, which is a very basic font -- it's practical, widely used, and not particularly distinctive. By contrast, they've taken the time to make all of the images sit on the curve of the latitude line. This is important to the "feel" of the application, because it makes the photos -- the content -- appear front and centre, while the container recedes. What's important is that there be integrity -- that the outside views of the business be an honest representation of the insides of the business. The product, its features, the marketing materials should authentically express the culture of the company, the underlying operations, the management philosophy. If you have this kind of continuity, then there's no fear of the "markets as conversations" concept.


JANICE PROFILE
By herself

The Netscape experience

In the last decade which was the change in your professional life that was more important and probably totally unexpected?

Exactly ten years ago this month I left my job as Managing Editor of a successful magazine to freelance for a crazy start-up that had just gone public -- Netscape. Within a few weeks, they had offered me a full-time job as Senior Editor of the Netscape Web site, and my career was suddenly on a new path. It was like taking a right turn off of a city street and finding yourself suddenly on the Autobahn. I don't remember editing much of anything -- I was instantly doing new kinds of work: Interaction design, creative direction, feature specifications. My first project there was to launch "Personal Workspace", which was the 1996 precursor to My Netscape. As significant as the work were my co-workers. These people were brilliant, renaissance types -- good at so many things and able to see the potential implicit in the web. It was a special time and place, and I'm grateful to have had that special introduction to the Web and to Silicon Valley culture.

Our vision: Vocal members of the user experience design community

You have been a serial start-up entrepreneur in the Bay Area. Why you decided to create Adaptive Path?

The number-one criteria for me in selecting opportunities is the people. Do I believe in them? Are they smart? Do I fill out the team in some important way? Do I trust them? Do we share the same values? Can we make good decisions together? Will we support each other when things get difficult (as they inevitably do)? Without the ability to execute on an idea, a new company will never get off the ground. I really believed in the Adaptive Path team's ability to deliver exceptional work and to have a real impact of the field of user experience. We were committed to the idea that we could change things in positive ways. Our vision was (and still is) to lead the field -- not single-handedly, but rather as vocal and thoughtful members of the larger community of user experience designers. I also believed in the team's cohesiveness and commitment to being good colleagues. I have very high expectations for the quality of my life, and I won't waste time with a team that can't maintain positive relationships. Ultimately, I believe in Adaptive Path -- I believed then (and still do today) that it could change the world, one experience at a time.

A Serial Entrepreneur

You are turning the 40's. In ten years time, how you "forecast" yourself in the "New Economy" business?

What a great question. I turned 40, and I'm really very excited about it. I hope that in 10 years' time I can say that I've been a true business leader -- That I've helped several young companies get started. That I've introduced a new set of important voices to the field of User Experience Design. That I've helped to create products that redefine their categories. That I've made Adaptive Path into the most enviable place to work for emerging and established experience design professionals.

Passion for artwork

If you had to turn back to the university, to your teens, which area would you choose?

There's a reason that I feel comfortable with the "renaissance types" that are attracted to the Web. My background is crazy -- I started university with a specialty in molecular biology. Changed in my last year to finish with a degree in English literature. Went to work in a bank, and then a publishing company, where I stayed for five years before leaving to join Netscape. And if I could start again, I'd go to school for a degree in fine art. The passion to create breakthrough businesses, strong people, and valuable user experiences comes from the same source as my passion for artwork. For more than a decade, fine art has been an avocation, and I'd love to see what I would do if I gave over a few years exclusively to making art. It's one of the best things humans can do.


Post-Interview

THE CONTEXT BEHIND
Short story of what you must know about the new "buzz"

The Web 2.0 concept began with a conference brainstorming session organized by the Silicon Valley Publisher house O'Reilly and Media Live International in October 2004. The new marketing "buzzword" - today [February 2006] with more than 260 million citations in Google - coined by Dale Dougherty, O'Reilly Vice President, has clearly taken hold and a crowd of web 2.0-addicted start-ups emerged.

It means the second phase of the World Wide Web, when websites became computing platforms serving web applications to end users. It means the definitive transition from websites as static information silos to platforms of functionality and interactivity. It means a new architecture of participation and it's evolving into amateur and citizen media and spontaneous social networks. That's the core of the new strategic positioning. In the new business patterns the new companies run away from the commodity market of the first web software companies (like Netscape) to the web application as a service backed by database management. This service acts as an intelligent broker, harnessing the collective intelligence of the users. The new firms are infoware companies - not software companies, as explained by the editor Tim O'Reilly, in his excellent paper "What is Web 2.0" (www.oreillynet.com/lpt/a/6228).

Blurring the lines

Some of the innovative attributes launched in the mid of the 1990's by companies like Amazon.com or Ebay - user contributions, the network effect, viral marketing - are foundational parts of the business model that the Web 2.0 extended later. Some of them were summarized at that epoch by Kevin Kelly in his famous book New Rules for the New Economy (1998).

The main new attribute of this second phase of the Web is blurring the lines that traditionally differentiate suppliers, vendors and customers, mixing in an online "experience", based in decentralization, co-creation, co-authoring, remixability (barriers to re-use extremely low), innovation by assembling services, and emergent behaviour.

For most people Google is certainly the standard player for the Web 2.0. Since Google delivered applications such as Gmail or Google Maps the market suddenly understood that we're entering an unprecedented period of user interface innovation. Its IPO in August 2004 was a defining event for a new phase, like Netscape IPO in August 1995 was a turning point from innovation to diffusion of the first web phase.

Web 2.0 is a complement for the Semantic Web, a project launched by Tim Berners-Lee, Web's creator. The Semantic Web aimed to make web pages understandable by computers, so that they can search websites and perform actions in a standardized way. For most people, the Web 2.0 is a step on that way. Probably provisional.

The Web 2.0 often use a combination of techniques devised since 1997, including Application programming interfaces allowing communication between two or more software applications, "peer-to-peer" technology, Ajax[Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] and web syndication (like RSS and Atom, the two main formats). In popular terms it includes blogs, wikis (a type of website suited for collaborative writing), tagging (folksonomy, a taxonomy based on "folks"/users key words) and podcasts (a webfeed of audio or video files).


5 KEY IDEAS

- Web 2.0 refers to the ongoing transition to a full participatory Web, in which the Web is seen as a two-way medium, were people are both readers and writers. Also known as the "read/write Web".

- Market as a conversation, is the new motto. Based on social software, online social networks, open communications, decentralization, freedom to share and reuse

- Web design strategy: Aesthetics is important. But not necessary the way we think. Simplicity is important in the Web 2.0. Look at Google. It's minimally designed, but the design decisions are subtle, deliberate, and important to the perceptions of the application. Look at the detail of Google's logo: it changes everyday. Look also to Flickr, the fast-growing photo sharing service.

- Examples: Wikis as collaborative authoring; folksonomies as decentralized taxonomy based on users key words; blogs; social book marking services; RSS-syndication

- The concept of branding is changing. Brands are becoming less managed and more emergent. Like the voice of your written communications, the aesthetics of your visual communications can feel either human or forced, authentic or artificial. The outside views of the business must be an honest representation of the insides of the business.


A BIT OF ECONOMICS

Web 2.0 placed in the context of the Kondratieff long wave
Why the Net/Web Revolution is changing phase

These facts around the Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web means the Internet/Web Revolution ended its innovation structural phase and embarked on a consolidation structural phase. This technical language means this basic innovation is facing the end of the rush and entering a new phase, a second age, of widespread diffusion.

In the context of economical long cycles, the interesting point is the fact that this diffusion occurs in the neighbourhood of the trough (depression between two waves) and generates a transition period, in this case from the 4th long wave of Kondratieff (that took off in the 1940's with an innovation clustering including Mark I, John Von Neumann's architectural computation system and Bell Labs'transistor effect by Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain) to the 5th long wave that will mark the first half of this century.

This transition we are presently witnessing has an optimistic side: this diffusion phase - that took-off with the three "horsemen" of the business Web (Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!)- will trigger a new structural economic upswing in this decade.

The study of this transition was detailed by Tessaleno Devezas, Harold Linstone and Humberto Santos in their recent paper "The Growth dynamics of the Internet and the long wave theory" published at Technological Forecasting and Social Change magazine (volume 72, number 8, October 2005).


TIME LINE

PHASES OF THE INTERNET REVOLUTION

1. The invention phase during the up-wave of the 4th K cycle: 1961-1984, from the first papers on the packet-switching theory and networks in the 1960's (Leonard Kleinrock and Paul Baran) to the creation of the Domain Name System in the 1980's.
2. The innovation phase during the beginning of the down-wave of the 4th K cycle: 1984-1994, from the commercial introduction of the Internet, with the creation of .com domains and the involvement of private corporations, to the first application of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee (1990),to the appearance of the first browser created by Marc Andreessen and Eric Biac(1993) that opened the massification of the use of the Web.
3. The Diffusion phase, since 1994/1995, along the end of the down-wave of the 4th K cycle, the trough and the beginning of the 5th K cycle. The founding attributes of the Web 2.0 born with Amazon.com (1994), eBay (1995), the Netscape IPO (1995) and Yahoo! (incorporation in 1995), maturing with Google (1998), Peer-to-Peer technology (1999), blogger (1999), Napster (1999), RSS (1999), Wikipedia (2001), and all the other after-crash babies of the Web 2.0

Source: Adapted from "The Growth Dynamics of the Internet and the Long Wave Theory", Devezas, Linstone and Santos, TFSC, nr.72, 2005


EVENTS OF THE WEB 2.0

1999 - P2P technology; Napster (the original); blogger; RSS-web syndication (designed for my.netscape.com)

2000 - Nasdaq crash

2001 - Wikipedia; BitTorent

2003 - Del.icio.us (acquired by Yahoo in December 2005); Adsense

2004 - Flickr (acquired by Yahoo in March 2005); Google IPO

Source: www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000547.php

Web 2.0 Archives

http://oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html?page=1

www.programmableweb.com/reference

www.squidoo.com/introtoweb20/#module1269244

http://loadaveragezero.com/app/drx/Internet/History

 
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